How to help employees with carpal tunnel syndrome

CTS is the most common peripheral nerve entrapment syndrome

How to help employees with carpal tunnel syndrome

While carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) among employees can be costly for employers, there is actually a very quick fix to address the problem, according to one orthopaedic surgeon.

The initial treatment is where a patient wears a splint at night to hold their hand in the right position. But if that does not solve things, there is an easy cure.

The cure is called Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release, and it can help workers get back to work in a very short time, says Dr. Alejandro Badia, medical director of the Badia Hand to Shoulder Center in the U.S., in talking with Canadian HR Reporter.

“My international patient coordinator, she had numbness on one hand – which is unusual, with people using both for quite a while. Finally, she said, ‘I work for a hand surgeon; Maybe I should take care of this.’

“She had the surgery done down the hall. She was at her computer an hour later with a little dressing and typing,” he says, adding that he told her employee to go home and come back to work in a day or two.”

“By leaving little to no scarring, it reduces the risk of infection, which allows the patient to return to their life quickly and with a minimal amount of discomfort.”

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

CTS is the most common peripheral nerve entrapment syndrome, accounting for approximately 90 per cent of all focal entrapment neuropathies, according to an academic study titled An Integrated Review of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: New Insights to an Old Problem, published in June.

And CTS can be costly to employers. In the United States, it is the most expensive upper extremity musculoskeletal disorder, with healthcare costs exceeding $2 billion yearly, according to the study.

What causes CTS? A fluid shift in the carpal tunnel. “Some people have a narrower diameter than others. Just like some people might be more prone to sciatica... There are people who are predisposed,” says Badia.

Why CTS is more common among women

And while CTS can affect all workers, it is more common among women.

“Metabolic issues” may be behind this trend, says Badia, and pregnancy can be a factor.

“If you ask women in the third trimester of pregnancy, many of them will wake up at night… with their hands numb. It's very uncomfortable. And that is because of fluid shifts. So the same women who have these complaints will tell you that their feet swell, that their lower back hurts, because of retention of fluid.”

Female workers in “perimenopausal stage” can also be more prone to CTS, says Badia. Because their “estrogens and progesterone start to shift when they get to be in their late 40s”.

CTS is associated with several diseases, including arthritis, diabetes and gout, notes the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Nipping CTS in the bud

There are ways that workers can help minimize the likelihood that they will get CTS, says Badia. These include subscribing to a proper diet, exercising and sitting in an upright position when working at a computer. Chiropractic care can be a key way to treat certain injuries, according to one expert.

However, CTS is unavoidable in some cases, says Badia. That’s because it is “a metabolic and hormonal disorder, and some people are just going to get this,” he says.

“Some people have coronary artery disease. Yes, you can eat better, you can exercise. And it's fantastic that we have a focus on a healthy lifestyle now. But there are limits,” he says. “The important thing with this is really early recognition… and early detection.”

It’s also important for employers to help make sure workers are getting checked by the right doctor, he says.

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